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This months Readers Write is from Bruce Bowker. Many of you have read discussions relating to this topic in the travel related newsgroups. This is and unedited statement from Bruce.


Bruce Bowker, Carib Inn -

There has been much discussion in the press and on various computer services about the lawsuit which the Carib Inn brought to learn the identity of Jenny TRR from AOL. My name is Bruce Bowker and I am the proprietor of the Carib Inn. We at the Carib Inn are very proud of our outstanding reputation for running one of the finest diving operations in the world. It is a safe, friendly operation dedicated to providing world class diving for our guests at economical prices. It takes many outstanding, dedicated, caring, loyal, and professional people working together to make the Carib Inn the fine organization that it is. These people deserve the respect that they have all earned.

Since legal proceedings are still pending it is not appropriate to say a great deal at this time about these proceedings. However, I do want to clarify several things, because some people appear to think freedom of speech may be involved and at risk.

I certainly believe in free speech, but that was not what was at issue here. The single posting reported in the press was not the reason for the lawsuit. The person who adopted the alias Jenny TRR , merely used the posting to draw other AOL subscribers into E-Mail dialogues. In the course of these dialogues that person impersonated an FBI agent, a Florida state trooper, and others. The person did not, as many appear to believe, express opinions, ideas, or comments on bad service. Rather the person ntentionally, maliciously, and for the purpose of hurting the Carib Inn and the many fine people who work here stated numerous false facts and accused our staff of repeated acts of criminal behavior. The person used the many false identities to create the impression that these totally false accusations were backed up by many persons of authority.

The person who created these bogus facts did not stay at the Carib Inn and was not even on Bonaire as claimed. The accusations were totally made up for the purpose of hurting the Carib Inn and the many fine people who are a part of this organization. I need to repeat myself - the person who made the accusations was not even on Bonaire!

Such malicious behavior has never been protected as freedom of speech under the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States or under any other similar concept. To the contrary, the law provides for the punishment of such behavior because, for among other reasons, it is believed that such malicious conduct threatens the existence of free speech. False statements have no place in the market place of free ideas, thoughts, and opinions. This is not a situation where every time there is a disagreement or debate or complaint about bad service there will be a lawsuit or, as one misguided commentator put it, millions of defamation suits. Here an individual deliberately made up false statements for the purpose of hurting hard working, fine people. This kind of attack has nothing to do with free speech.

It is also worth noting that the person who did this could not have had any expectations of privacy and should have known under the circumstances that AOL would disclose their identity. When they joined AOL they accepted the rules and procedures stipulated by AOL. Under these rules, it is prohibited to use AOL s facilities to defame or to harass others, all of which this person did. Moreover, under AOL s rules, AOL reserves the right to disclose the identity of such persons. The proper procedure for this is the one which the Carib Inn followed. By obtaining a discovery order requiring AOL to turn over the information, AOL is able to determine that the request is legitimate, as it was here. AOL properly cooperated and turned over the information under the circumstances of this case.

People should take responsibility for what they do. They should not hide behind aliases. They should not violate AOL s conditions for using its facilities and abuse the privilege that AOL affords them. The person who perpetrated the heinous acts involved here violated these principles. If computer forums are to serve their legitimate purposes, including providing for meaningful debate, people must act responsibly. I hope that this message will help to clarify what has occurred to date and that the responsible users of AOL and the other similar services will understand why we had to act to protect the many fine people who are a part of the Carib Inn and whose lives and reputations were being injured. Once again, the person who made the remarks was not even on Bonaire!

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